You’ve probably heard of him. Santa Claus. Saint Nick. Father Christmas. Kris Kringle. For most of us who are familiar with the story, the same basic images are probably evoked by any one of those names.
Did you know that Santa Claus did not have any reindeer until he was given one in 1821? It was in a poem called “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight,” author unknown. Then apparently he quickly gained some significant clout, because two years later in “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore (now commonly known as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) he had eight of them along with an airborne sleigh.
I don’t know how Santa Claus made his deliveries each Christmas Eve before then. No matter. He now had a vehicle. Now he needed a suit. Santa Claus got his red suit in an 1868 advertisement for a confectionery company. I mean he had a suit before that. It’s just that before 1868, Santa Claus dressed, randomly it seems, in white, green, blue or even brown.
Every heroic figure has got to have a side kick. Santa Claus got an entire workforce full of them in a publication called “Godey’s Lady’s Book” in 1873 where the elves, as well as a workshop were first depicted. We soon found out where that workshop was situated in an 1879 Thomas Nast illustration showing a child mailing a letter to Santa Claus at a North Pole address.
Then in 1939 in the wake of “one foggy Christmas Eve”, a book written by Robert L. May introduced us to Rudolph, a ninth, and red-nosed reindeer. It also introduced us to the moral complexities of the the other eight reindeer, but that’s a story for another day, I suppose.
It’s almost like we’re making the whole thing up as we go along, as if the story of Santa Claus is an evolving work of fan fiction.